Most people know how to care for their old tack – it’s pretty straightforward; clean it thoroughly using a good quality saddle soap and then restore lost moisture with a light grade oil. But what about brand new tack?
Often, new saddles and bridlework will come with a white bloom present, usually underneath the saddle flaps, on the girth straps and on the underside of the bridle. Saddlers call this bloom, “talc”. It’s not mould as some people mistakenly think but a consequence of the tanning process and to be expected. In fact, if there is no talc present on your lovely new saddle, be concerned that the process has not been carried out correctly and that the leather is perhaps of poor quality.
The tanning process transforms raw cowhide into leather and in doing so dries it out. To restore moisture and render the leather pliable and workable, it is “curried” using a mixture of cod-liver oil and tallows. The mixture leaves a clear residue which gradually turns white as it dries, forming the bloom known as “talc”. The bloom will rub off as the tack is used but if you want to get rid of it more quickly, just rub it lightly with a dry cloth. These days not all new tack has bloom on it as many manufacturers rub it down before shipping.
Thanks to modern processes, gone are the days when it was necessary to virtually soak new tack in a bath of neatsfoot oil before it would become pliable enough for use! Now all you need to do is apply a very light coat of oil to the underside of the tack using a small piece of soft cloth, a sponge or a paint brush. It really is a case of “less is more”. You don’t need to oil new leather that is already nice and soft, like the seat of a saddle for example. Be wary too of over-oiling parts of the tack that are inclined to stretch; stirrup leathers, reins etc. Oil affects the effectiveness of glue so be careful when oiling knee rolls in case the foam padding insert separates from the leather which may become wrinkled.
Never succumb to the temptation to completely “strip” your tack as this just ruins the leather. Remember that the currying process is designed to prepare saddle and bridle leather for the job it is going to do and you can overdo things and spoil it. When you clean your new tack, use a damp sponge to remove any light soiling and grease. Apply a good quality leather cleaner or saddle soap worked into a rich, cream; rinse this thoroughly then apply leather conditioner. When you’re cleaning buckles, make sure you wipe off any metal polish that gets onto the leather.
Finally, try to avoid riding out in the rain until your tack is well broken-in. New tack is much more susceptible to water damage than older tack that is well-conditioned.